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Form und Function

While studying composition in Germany, I fell in love with musical forms. Theme and variation, sonata, canon, fugue, spiral, recursive, Fibonacci, fractal … I took them all in, like divine templates. Unfortunately, my love of form ended up trumping my love of sound, and my pieces grew ever more brilliant on paper and dull in performance – a sorry state for a composer to end up in.

My road to recovery began with a quote from an ancient Japanese treatise on aesthetics: “Form is a cage to trap meaning.” This quote changed my compositional life. Rather than approaching form as an end in itself I began to see it as a means to an end – a vehicle for expression; a way to communicate thought, emotion and self. Form, for me, became functional, not merely formal.

The forms you use can make or break your pieces. A meterless improv ramble is fine for experimental music, but disastrous for trance. A loopy 4/4 ABA is good for house, but utterly wrong for glitch. Locking a panther in a sterile 5×3 meter cage will drain its power and beauty and eventually kill it. The same panther might thrive in a 50×30 meter cage with a dense, jungly environment.

Every composition calls for its own unique form, its own lovingly crafted and custom-fitted cage. As the composer, you need to discover this form for each of your pieces and have the courage to use it, even if it violates musical expectation and fashion. The alternative is a 5×3 killing jar.

Posted on December 10, 2011 at 9:15 am by rachmiel · Permalink

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  1. Written by Bynner
    on September 6, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    We listened tp 4’33 by John Cage in class a few days ago. This piece was 4 mnitues and 33 seconds of silence. There was no tempo. `there was no dynamics, no instruments, just no sound. While listening to the silence I feel like I am waiting waiting for something to begin. Expecting another fantastic and amazing piece of music. But there was nothing and that suprised me.Upon first thought the mind questions this silence. Most people would immediatly asume it wasn’t music. But it was its just hard for the mind to comprehend. By definition music is an organization of sound over a period of time. John Cage did, in fact, organize sound, but his interpretation of music, for this piece, was silence. John wasn’t expecting complete silence, he was expecting chance music. Chance music to him was silence that created music where some elements are left to be decided by chance. To me this was a big change from what we have been studying.Aesthetics is also something to think about.In some people’s opinion this piece is complete junk! But in other s it is beautiful. While listening to this `i really started thinking. There are so many different people in this world. We all have our talents and out views on different topics. Your view of the color of blue may not be the same as the person next to you. Its the same for the this music. We all have our differences and we all shine in our own way. Same with music. All music is different but it all shines in its own way. So really I liked this piece of music because it got me thinking.~K.H.

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